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Is Breast Best?: Taking on the Breastfeeding Experts and the New High Stakes of Motherhood (Biopolitics) Hardcover – December 19, 2010
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This heavily footnoted defense of formula feeding will undoubtedly fan the fire between those who believe “breast is best” versus those who think manufactured food is just fine, thank you. Wolf, a political scientist, is on strongest ground when she discusses the history of this emotionally charged topic. Unfortunately, she seems out of her element when describing perceived flaws in medical studies of breast milk and talking about financial issues. Inexplicably, she fails to discuss the price of formula, which can easily run $1,000 to $2,000 a year. Instead, she talks about what she sees as the “exorbitant” costs of breastfeeding. (Presumably, she is referring to how it’s tricky for poor women to hold down a job and nurse their babies.) An expansion of a 2007 article Wolf wrote for the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, this pro-formula book treatise would have benefited from a more nuanced argument. For a better book, see Dr. Naomi Baumslag’s Milk, Money, and Madness (1995). --Karen Springen
"Wolf confronts the stereotypes of ideal motherhood and explains how public health campaigns and advocacy groups have relied on flawed infant-feeding research to exaggerate any health risks associated with using infant formula."-Texas A&M University News,tamunews.tamu.edu
"Instead of disputing the science about the chemical makeup of breast milk . . . she (Wolf) posits that the benefits most people associate with breast-feeding studies cannot be separated from the fact that mothers who breast-feed may be more attuned to health and may take more precautions about hygene . . . Wolf rightfully contends that in the government's and acvocate's zeal to increase the numbers of breast-fed babies, they have vastly discounted the harsh realities of breast-feeding in a modern world"-Tara A. Trower,Statesman.com
"Wolf offers a powerful and important cultural critique...this is an insightful and eye-opening book that will be of interest to sociologists of gender, medical sociologists, and science studies scholars."-Abigail C. Saguy,American Journal of Sociology
“Beautifully written, powerfully argued. . . . Challenges the science prescription that all infants must be breastfed.”-Linda Blum,author of At the Breast
"Wolf notes the 'insular and unidimensional zealotry' of breastfeeding campaginers and skillfully uncovers elements of racism and elitism in their behavior toward working women who do not have the luxury to breastfeed."-A. H. Koblitz,Choice
"Wolf looks at the breast-feeding studies much like ones that ask whether race matters in the way people vote. She scrutinizes the design of the research and how it's been executed and 'then how it's been reported, both to scientists and to the public'"-University of Chicago Magazine
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Top Customer Reviews
This book really put things in perspective - not only about breastfeeding but about the way that we emphasize eliminating all possible "risks" to our children, not realizing that we are expending huge amounts of effort on things that are either very unlikely or that have a very low possibility of harm. The whole idea that the mother is uniquely responsible for eliminating all risks to her child's development is problematic. The worshipping of the "natural", as a reaction to science constantly changing and updating its conclusions, is also taken to ridiculous levels.
This book is well researched and thoughtful - a bit on the academic side, but I appreciate that because too often the cultural messages about breastfeeding are based on "studies" that don't actually come to the conclusions that are touted in popular media. It's great to be able to cut through the nonsense and learn what conclusions can actually be scientifically drawn.
Even if some of the health claims are real - and the most convincing one is that breastfeeding reduces episodes of diarrhea - does that really justify pressuring a woman who hates breastfeeding or has tremendous difficulty with it to continue miserably for the "sake of her baby?" If cloth diapering were shown to reduce diaper rash and speed potty training, would a national campaign be launched to discourage parents from choosing the convenience of disposables over their baby's well-being? Or do diapers just not inspire the same passion as breasts?
The decision to breastfeed or bottlefeed affects nearly every aspect of a woman's life, including what she eats, how she relates to her husband and other children, and how able she is to maintain employment. It's obvious to me that every new mother has a right to information that is completely truthful and balanced to help her make the best decision for her particular situation. Given this assumption, I'm baffled as to why breastfeeding advocacy has attracted so many overzealous supporters. So I was excited to find Ms. Wolf's book. Let me first say that I agree with pretty much every point she makes, and I applaud her for speaking out against the politically correct and endlessly repeated message that breastfeeding is the clear best choice for everyone. However, this book is written in such a scholarly, vocabulary-rich way that I'm afraid its message will not reach many women. Ms. Wolf laments that "much of the health information that people encounter requires proficiency skills that only 12 percent of Americans possess." I think it's a pity that the same can probably be said about her book.